18 JUNE 1948, Page 12



IT would be a sad thing if our young men, in the standardised age which seems to threaten, were to suppose that it will no longer be possible for them to make fine patterns of their lives. I am not one of those who are jealous of youth's privileges, since I know full well that adolescence is a period of bewildered sensitive- ness. But there come moments when I envy boys and girls their ignorance of their own future, their inability to predict. They see before them the examples of men and women who have carved their destinies into triumphant shapes ; they are still unaware of the limitations of their own intellect or character ; for them it is per- mitted to imagine every variety of adventure and to believe that the miraculous may occur. It is a foolish thing to become self- pitying about old age: but I admit that it is discouraging to reach a stage when one ceases to believe in the unexpected, or when one feels that the unexpected, should it occur, is almost sure to be un- pleasant. I trust that the Cambridge undergraduates last week, when they watched the slow procession walking to the Senate House, when they heard the bells of Great St. Mary's ring out upon the summer air, when they saw these distinguished men conversing amicably together as they passed, were conscious of the long years of effort and disappointment which had brought these men together upon so honourable an occasion. There was Mr. Leif Egeland, a former Rhodes scholar, who at the Paris Conference suddenly showed himself a diplomatist of the highest quality ; there was Mr. Charles Seymour, a former member of Colonel House's " Enquiry," and now President of Yale ; there was Mr. Arnold Toynbee, who has taught many historians how to think about history ; there was the great humanist, Sir Richard Livingstone ; there was Mr. N. A. Robertson of Balliol, now High Commissioner for Canada ; there was that most eminent Wykehamist, Sir Stafford Cripps ; and there were those two self-made men of genius, Mr. Winston Churchill and General Smuts.

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I like to suppose that at least one undergraduate (propping his bicycle for a moment as the procession passed) had the imagination to contemplate the superb pattern which General Smuts has drawn. Fifty-seven years ago a young man arrived at Cambridge from Victoria College, Stellenbosch, with an Ebden scholarship of £ioo a year. He managed, by borrowing odd sums on his life insurance from his forme:. school-master, to support himself at Christ's College ; he ended by obtaining a double first. Not many records exist of General Smuts during his first Cambridge period. He was very poor, he was very studious, he spoke with an Afrikaans accent, he possessed inflexible eyes. He also during those ardent but penurious days must have watched processions wending their way towards the Senate House. How could he have foreseen the infinite variations of his future career ? How incredible it would have seemed to him that more than half a century later he would himself be leading that procession, dressed in black and gold, with his train carried behind him by an undergraduate from his own college, and with Winston Churchill following benignantly behind ! I relish the arabesques of history and the strange way in which Clio on occasions will indulge in poetic justice. It was indeed fitting that one of General Smuts' most satisfactory triumphs should have followed so closely upon one of his most spectacular defeats. I hope that my undergraduate with his bicycle had the intelligence to feel that the bells were intoning a paean upon human character triumphing over the mutability of human affairs. I am sure that the General himself derived much solace from the occasion.

* * * * General Smuts is a disconcerting person. His manner is affable, very courteous, gay ; he appears to be without vanity, unless it be that he is vain about his powers of physical endurance. His mind is alert, penetrating, subtle rather than intimidating. One finds oneself wondering why it is that so apparently simple a man should be so formidable. Yet always, in Smuts' presence, one is conscious of a feeling of awe. This is due perhaps to his high, his almost superhuman, seriousness ; to the puritan convictions with which he is inspired. It is not so much that he despises human frailty: he ignores it. His asceticism is wholly natural to him; he enjoys being uncomfortable ; he prefers botany to flowers, the veld to gardens, causes to human beings. "Besides," he once remarked con- vincingly, " I don't find money interesting." Although he is in many ways a sentimental, even an emotional, man, his feelings are aroused not so much by the trials and ardours of his fellow men as by the wide processes of nature and the march of human history. His optimism, which is great, is an impersonal optimism. The clue to this aloofness is, as Sarah Gertrude Millin has remarked in her admirable biography, to be found in the fact that Smuts is by nature a reformer. "Most reformers," she writes, " working for human brotherhood, come to think of brotherhood as an abstract problem. The actual impingement of flesh and blood on their dreams is a hindrance to them. That men must be brothers, is their principle, but for themselves they do not enjoy brotherliness. They sit on mountain-tops or brood in studies and ask no more of the brothers than kindly to leave them alone." All this renders General Smuts intolerant, not assuredly of individuals—he is a most forgiving man—but of human nature. It irritates him that " the big ideas cannot succeed because the little ideas won't let them." It may be even that his lack of interest in human psychology renders him unsuspicious of the bad or foolish manner in which individuals can sometimes behave.

* * * * Fundamentally, however, the awe which Smuts inspires with his tremendous eyes is the awe which all men should feel in the presence of a prophet. His prevision, as that of other prophets, has not always proved infallible: yet his gift for seeing the future in the present is assuredly a prophetic gift. The courage with which, in 1919, he denounced the Treaty of Versailles appeared to us at the time magnificent but ill-founded. "My fear is," he wrote, " that the Paris Conference may prove one of the historic failures of the world." He prophesied that one day the Germans would "find means of exacting retribution from their conquerors." " We cannot," he wrote, " destroy Germany without destroying Europe. We cannot save Europe without the co-operation of Germany." It is this prophetic vision, this unflinching courage of statement, which gives significance to General Smuts' pronouncements. Smuts has never been a militarist ; he would claim to be a pacifist ; but he is not among those who believe that one can avoid war by repeat- ing how much one dislikes it ; he believes that peace can never be secured by weakness, but only by strength. In warning us at Cambridge of the " sinister silent process " of the new technique of internal disruption, he did not pretend that we could counter the infection by sweet reasonableness. " As long," he said, " as they think they can play this game without risk of real war, they will continue their new technique of aggression—with results which may be as devastating to human freedom as war itself." " In this moment," he warned us, "of almost mortal weakness things may happen which neither blood nor tears could wash away thereafter." And in a fitting peroration he recalled the words of Pericles:- " Happiness is freedom ;- and freedom is courage."

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In 1899 General Smuts became one of the most gifted of our enemies: he is now one of the most inspiring of our friends. " I wonder," he said in later life, " what instinct made me join the Stellenbosch volunteers." It was the simple instinct that when one believes in a cause one must be prepared to fight for it. The same instinct inspired his Cambridge speech of June loth. As he -'. headed that stately procession with the bells ringing in his ears, his mind must have gone back to the young South African student of 1891—to the young man with the hungry eyes, with his head full of Shelley and Walt Whitman, and in front of him a tangled future of almost sixty years.